Thursday, July 8, 2010

Three Mason Students Join Others in Creative Sit-In at EPA Headquarters to Call for Stronger Action on Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

WASHINGTON— Today, activists with the Rainforest Action Network staged sit-in at the EPA headquarters to demand stronger protection for Appalachia’s drinking water and an end to the devastating practice of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. Three of the activists inside the EPA building are Mason students including Allison Rutledge and Jason Von Kundra.

After entering the EPA building, activists sat down in the center of the lobby, locked themselves together with metal ‘lock boxes,’ and began to play West Virginia’s adopted state song, John Denver’s ‘Take me Home, Country Roads,’ with intermittent sounds of Appalachia’s mountains being blown apart by MTR explosives spliced into the song. An additional activist climbed to the top of the EPA front door on Constitution Ave and hung a banner reading: ‘Blowing up mountains for coal contaminates Appalachia’s water, Stop MTR.’

“We’re sitting down inside the EPA to demand the EPA stand up to protect Appalachia’s precious drinking water, historic mountains and public health from the devastation of mountaintop removal,” said Scott Parkin of Rainforest Action Network, who participated in the sit-in. “At issue here is not whether mountaintop removal mining is bad for the environment or human health, because we know it is and the EPA has said it is. At issue is whether President Obama’s EPA will do something about it. So far, it seems it is easier to poison Appalachia’s drinking water than to defy King Coal.”

With the nation’s eyes on the BP disaster, the EPA, without publicly announcing the action, recently gave the green light for a major new mountaintop removal coal mining permit in Logan County, West Virginia. The permit would allow the destruction of nearly three miles of currently clean streams and 760 acres of forest, in a county where at least 13 percent of the land has already been permitted for surface coal mining. This is the first permit decision the EPA has issued under the new MTR guidelines, which came out last April and were anticipated to provide tougher oversight of the practice.

“This is a devastating first decision under guidelines that had offered so much hope for Appalachian residents who thought the EPA was standing up for their health and water quality in the face of a horrific mining practice,” said Amanda Starbuck of the Rainforest Action Network. “The grand words being spoken by Administrator Jackson in Washington are simply not being reflected in the EPA’s actions on-the-ground. Moving forward, it is clear that the EPA cannot end mountaintop removal coal mining pollution, as it has committed to, without abolishing mountaintop removal all together.”

For decades, Appalachian residents have been decrying the impact of mountaintop removal coal mining—the practice of blowing up whole mountains (and dumping the toxic debris into nearby streams and valleys) to reach seams of coal. Environmentalists, leading scientists, congressional representatives and even late coal state Senator Byrd have all called for the end to this mining practice.

A paper released in January 2009 by a dozen leading scientists in the journal Scienceconcluded that mountaintop coal mining is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits all together. “The science is so overwhelming that the only conclusion that one can reach is that mountaintop mining needs to be stopped,” said Margaret Palmer, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and the study’s lead author.

Since 1992, nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been filled at a rate of 120 miles per year by surface mining practices. A recent EPA study found elevated levels of highly toxic selenium in streams downstream from valley fills. These impairments are linked to contamination of surface water supplies and resulting health concerns, as well as widespread impacts to stream life in downstream rivers and streams. Further, the estimated scale of deforestation from existing Appalachian surface mining operations is equivalent in size to the state of Delaware.

The Pine Creek permit is currently awaiting approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Here are some photos from today's action.

Here is the sound track played on loop from within the building.